Tag Archive | counselling

(Mis)Adventures in Joining a Recovery Support Group

So much about recovery involves scary leaps out of your comfort zone. That safe place you are in is likely unhealthy, but it is where you are, and what you know, and that can count for an awful lot of points when your life is falling apart around you. Maybe I should be a little more personal here and replace these “you” and “your” words with “I” and “my” because it is me that I am really talking about.

Knowing how to quietly walk on eggshells and when to tiptoe around the perimeter. When to keep my mouth shut. Which is almost always because everything will come out wrong or stupidly. Learning how to camouflage into the background. Trying so hard to be unnoticed. By everyone.

This was my comfort zone. The isolation and security of me. Not letting anyone see the dark places of my soul, but also not the unique beauty of it either. Certain that it would be rejected and ridiculed. Because it was. Daily. By the person who I freely and trustingly gave it to. If my husband so thoroughly disliked me, logically, everyone else would as well. I lived in constant fear of being humiliated and rejected by everyone.

And there was my problem with embracing a recovery program. Recovery is not a “me” journey to be taken alone. At my first counselling session, my therapist introduced me to the five vital components to treatment and recovery for partners of sex addicts.

Number one, one on one counselling. I could do that. I was cautious, but desperate for guidance. It was his paid job to sit and listen to me without fleeing from the room repulsed by my thoughts and emotions. I trusted this counsellor who validated my pain and offered me hope and practical ways to achieve healing. He thought I was worth it and I began to believe that too.

Number four, reading. I was encouraged to read sex addiction recovery resources for partners and other personal growth books. Again, a reasonable suggestion. Especially with a list of recommended materials provided to me.

Number five, prayer. In the words of my counsellor, “When God is at the center of your life, long-term health and maintenance is much more likely. You can be okay no matter what happens in your relationship.” Nothing much to argue there. I believed in God so talking to Him wasn’t a stretch.

But ah, yes. Components two and three. For me, the tough, scary ones that I was inclined to skip over. The people ones. The relationships. The ones where other women will look me in the eyes, and listen to my wobbly, foolish words, and recognize instantly that I am a waste of their time.

Number two, participate in a recovery group. I was told that I would receive support, validation and strategies for recovery. That I was not alone. My counsellor’s wife, herself a recovering partner, led a weekly teleconference group that I was welcome and encouraged to join.

Number three, accountability. Meeting other women who have gone through what I am going through will help me stay accountable to a recovery and healing process. Okay. Doubtful, but maybe. But then my counsellor lost me completely by suggesting these women would become my friends. I was unconvinced. And saddened that he would say something so outlandish to me.

Nevertheless, out of my comfort zone I stumbled. Literally. On my first attempt to connect with my counsellor’s wife, (after staring at the phone in my hand for several minutes beforehand), I panicked and hung up the phone when I heard my counsellor’s voice on the line. Ridiculous, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Only minutes later, after a few deep breaths, I dialled again wondering if they had call display. He answered again. This time I identified myself. With my real name.

Later that week I bravely called in to the teleconference recovery group for the first time. It was awful. I said two words. “Cynthia” when I had to identify myself as the caller. And “no” when I was asked if I wanted to do a check-in. It was overwhelming, confusing, discouraging. It was quickly evident that I had no idea what was ahead of me. This was an unknown culture with an entirely new vocabulary. Triggers. Disclosures. Polygraphs. Boundaries. What?!?!

I hung up the phone that night and sobbed. Crushed by the overpowering raw emotions of myself and the other women I heard. Too much pain.

As my tears turned to stillness, I heard a tiny whisper. I called the group leader. Explained how much the call had distressed me. Through her words and beautiful spirit, God deeply ministered to my brokenness. A calm settled over my heart that could only come from my Abba Daddy.

I would like to say that my second time participating in group went more smoothly. But that would be untrue. I did hobble through a partial check in. Choked on the words, “Hi my name is Cynthia and I am the partner of a sex addict and intimacy anorexic.” The foreign recovery lingo was still there. I hung up in a worse state than I was in an hour earlier.

It distressed my husband to see me so upset with my recovery group. He was finding life and freedom in his support group and thought I should quit mine if it was making me miserable. He handed me an out. I was in enough pain as it was. We both wondered why I would intentionally add to it.

But I heard that tiny whisper again that refused to let my flickering hope be snuffed out. God gently nudged me forward. Drawing me through. Asking me to trust the process and path laid before me. Giving me the courage to do it. Making me brave.

The next week I walked into an in person recovery group and said “Hi, my name is Cynthia. The thing I like about myself today is that I am here.”

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Counselling – Three’s a Crowd

I am responsible for healing my pain. I am not responsible for the pain my husband and his sex addiction inflicted on me.

He loaded the gun, pulled the trigger, and fired the poisonous bullet that ripped through my body. Leaving shattered fragments of myself along its path. Lodging the shards in the very center of my being. Infecting me.

He caused the damage. Allowing him to poke and prod at my wounds to “help” me would only compound the injury. He cannot fix me. Only I can do that. But I am wise enough to know I can’t retrieve the bullet on my own. That job is for someone who knows what they are doing. Which is not me, and certainly not my husband. This requires professional help.

This is where it may get tricky. One size fits all counselling does not exist. It may take time to find the right therapist. It did for me. This is very frustrating in a crisis situation. But don’t give up on all therapy because of a disappointing encounter. The bullet may be twisted and pushed in deeper, but it still needs to be removed.

I began therapy with a female Christian counsellor. I thought I would be most comfortable with my own gender. I also felt safer with someone I trusted to have similar beliefs and values as my own. I did not particularly trust a male therapist to know how to care for my heart.

This assumption was a mistake. I learned from it and moved on after three visits. Turns out she left an abusive marriage. Told me there was no hope for mine. I wasn’t there looking to save my marriage, but neither was I there to end it. At that point, I just wanted to stop feeling crazy and take back control of my spiralling mind and life. I really didn’t care about the future status of my marriage, and yet her taking away hope and declaring its death stung more than I anticipated.

On my third and final (although neither of us knew this yet) visit to this therapist, she told me about a Christian sexual recovery therapist whom she thought could be helpful for my husband. Whether or not my marriage survived, my husband was the father of my children, and it mattered to me that their dad be as healthy as possible. Whatever that was. And so I gave my husband the information. Without tears or pleas, threats or ultimatums to make an appointment. Just handed him a piece of paper, said “I heard about this guy, maybe he can help you.” And I left it at that.

My husband called. My husband went. My husband came home and told me had a sex addiction and intimacy anorexia. I listened and said nothing. I was confused. Troubled. Didn’t know what that meant. The pieces didn’t fit together. I knew about the porn, but a sex addiction didn’t make sense for someone who avoided sex.

I searched this counsellor’s website. There was information about partner’s sexual betrayal trauma. I wanted to know more about all of this, so I set up an appointment for myself.

I didn’t know what to expect at my session. I walked into the room a messy, broken woman. I walked out messy, broken and validated. My voice was heard. Supportive words of kindness and grace were spoken to me. This was not my fault. I did not cause it. I could not fix it. Nor was I expected to. This counsellor gave me hope for my marriage, and for my husband, but most importantly he gave me hope for me.

I was told that I had a bad marriage. These words unsettled me. Made me uncomfortably squirmy. It was an odd sensation to hear these words of truth spoken out loud. I knew I didn’t have a good marriage, but I had never considered that it was bad. It just was what it was. The realization that I had a bad marriage wound its way from my head to my heart and landed as a heavy weight in my stomach.

The therapist outlined for me the recovery program that he would be introducing to my husband. I resignedly asked what I was supposed to do to help him. “Nothing,” he said. “You don’t do anything except give him to me.” What freedom I received at that moment! He went on to explain that my husband’s recovery was his to do, and mine was for me to do. And after we both had several weeks of individual therapy, we would then meet together to see how things were going and if we were ready to proceed with marriage counselling.

To have my counsellor give me the freedom and permission to put my husband and marriage aside to focus on my pain and healing was life giving.

To put a name to my experiences and pain …… betrayal, trauma, intimacy anorexia …… lifted some of the shame that this was a real thing beyond me. Not just a manifestation of my failures, flaws and weakness.

My heart began to hope that day. January 3, 2015. I was offered the gift of recovery and I accepted it.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

The Gift of Pain

We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. – Dr. Henry Cloud

I love this quote. It speaks truth. This was me the day I resolved that although pornography had its insidious grip on my husband and marriage, it was no longer going to ruin me. This has been me every day since as I walk in the newfound confidence of my worthiness and purpose.

When that pivotal time came, there were so many overwhelming, unrelenting, unanswerable questions. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to remind my body that it needed to both inhale and exhale, all the while holding back tears that were ready to escape at any moment.

Anger is a typical, common response to sexual betrayal. Often escalating to rage. I did not experience anger or rage. I felt a profound sense of sorrow, loss and grief.  I had been betrayed and neglected for the duration of my marriage. It had become my normal. And now that I was no longer able to function in my normal, it was extreme pain and sadness that enveloped me.

Oh, the questions. What do I do now? Will I ever stop hurting? Is this the end of my marriage? Has he done anything illegal? Where will I live? Should I purchase new underwear and socks while I still have money? Will the police show up at my door one day? Who will get the dog? Will anyone ever love me? What will our children think? Why is this happening to me? Am I crazy?

It really did feel as if my head might explode. I always thought that expression was rather embellished until the despair and pressure became so intense that it was not possible to contain it. The exaggerated cartoon image of steam erupting from the character’s ears and head suddenly became plausible. I took a deep breath, and with shaking hands, a churning stomach and unexpected courage, picked up the phone and made a counselling appointment.

There is no shame or disgrace in seeking professional help from a qualified therapist. It is not a sign of weakness. Admitting that our pain is more than we can handle on our own, and being willing to face it head on requires uncommon strength, courage and bravery. It is much more difficult to be vulnerable and ask for help than it is to run and hide from your anguish.

Most family members, friends and pastors are not able to deal with the adverse and explosive effects of sexual betrayal trauma. These people can be a wonderful support system, but are generally ill equipped to offer the assistance necessary to lead you through a true healing and recovery process. It is important to find a counsellor trained and experienced in the partner’s sexual betrayal trauma as well as sex and pornography addiction. At this point, it is you, the partner, who matters most. Not the addict. Not the marriage. You. It is essential to begin healing, changing your behaviours, and becoming healthy individually before making any attempt to rebuild your marriage. Jumping straight into marriage counselling is largely ineffective. The expectation of a healthy, thriving marriage consisting of two hurting, unhealthy people is somewhat baffling.

No one wants pain. And most of us fear change. But often the transformation compelled by pain becomes an incredibly precious gift. Our very own miracle.

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18